Kiwis look to regain confidence against Kenya

Updated: Feb 19, 2011, 15:10 PM IST

Chennai: Even though low on confidence after a losing spree in the run-up to the World Cup, New Zealand are unlikely to face any real threat from minnows Kenya when the two teams clash in their opening Group ‘A’ league match here on Sunday.

Under their newly-appointed coach John Wright, the Black Caps would be keen to regain confidence, having lost 14 of their last 17 One-day International matches, including 10 in the sub-continent that has exposed their inability to play on the turning wickets in this part of the world.

Since the Kiwis` arrival here on February 10, they have been candid in admitting their weakness in coping with the sub-continent conditions, particularly against spin, which was evident in their collapse after a good start in a warm-up game
against India that they lost by 117 runs.

On the eve of their opening match against Kenya, they seemed to be in a doubtful frame of mind, considering the remarks made by wicketkeeper-batsman Brendon McCullum on Friday that a confidence crisis is dogging the team after their meek surrender to Indian spin bowling.

And even though his teammate Martin Guptill expressed hope of the team bouncing back ahead of their first World Cup game, but there is little doubt that confidence in the Kiwi camp is at its lowest.

But all said and done, the New Zealanders, who have had mixed luck in practice games -- winning against Ireland in the first game, only to be comprehensively beaten by the co-hosts India in the next -- still start as favourites against the
Kenyans on Sunday.

The tide is expected to turn in the Black Caps favour sooner than later with Wright, who was the coach of the Indian cricket team, having loads of experience in sub-continent conditions, working hard with team, besides bowling coach Alan
Donald making significant contributions.

But the Kiwis have to be wary of the Kenyan side, which has caused a few upsets in the show-piece event in the past.

The African nation shocked West Indies on their debut in the 1996 World Cup at Pune and then ran over Sri Lanka in 2003 on way to their lone semi-final appearance, thanks to the walk-over awarded after New Zealand refused to play in
Nairobi, citing security concerns.

Since then, however, Kenyan cricket has been on a down slide, besieged by problems in domestic set-up.
The present team, boosted by the return of veteran Steve Tikolo, won against Afghanistan and Ireland in Dubai, but lost to the Netherlands and West Indies in Colombo in both their warm-up ties.
Going by their strengths, Kenya`s realistic chance of registering a victory appears to be only against Canada in group stage but anything beyond that would be a bonus for them, considering defending champions Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe being the other teams in the group.

Ahead of Sunday`s game, the Kiwis can take heart from the fact that their attacking batsmen -- McCullum, Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor and Guptill, whose 130 helped the team win the warm-up tie against Ireland in Nagpur -- are all in form.

But they would certainly have to work on their bowling if they want to go beyond the quarterfinals.

Their pace attack led by Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram and Tim Southee is a suspect against strokemakers on the sub-continent pitches, bringing to fore the void caused by the retirement of speedster Shane Bond.

The spin department also lacks the teeth, although it will be spearheaded by captain Daniel Vettori, who opted out of the warm-up match against India.

Newcomer Luke Woodcok and Nathan McCullum, whose availability for Sunday`s match depends on his fitness, following his discharge from hospital after being under observation for two days with high temperature, also do not add much variety.

Kenya would be banking on the experience of 39-year-old all-rounder Tikolo and medium-pacer Thomas Odoyo, both of whom are playing in their fifth World Cup.

An exciting middle-order bat, Tikolo, who had scored 96 against Sri Lanka in 1996 and 93 against Australia, can also contribute to the team`s success as an effective slow bowler.

The side has several youngsters, including opener Seren Waters, who sparkled with an unbeaten 126 against the Netherlands in the warm-up match, which they lost despite piling up 263.

As far as bowling department is concerned, the team has come well prepared for the sub-continent conditions, packing it with four spinners. Besides Tikolo, newly appointed captain James Kamande and Shem Ngoche would be their main strike bowlers.